Monday, August 22, 2005

Head for the Hills: Bacon's Rebellion Published

The Aug. 23, 2005, edition of Bacon's Rebellion is now available online.

Two columns should be of particular interest to readers of this blog:

Does Not Compute
VDOT's forecasting model is the best yet devised, but it's still grievously flawed. Virginia does not face $108 billion in unmet transportation needs over the next 20 years.
by James A. Bacon

Balanced Communities
Developing "balanced communities" is critical to achieving sustainable New Urban Regions in a globally competitive economy. Herewith is a primer on what they are and how to create them.
by EM Risse


At 9:43 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

"Does not compute" makes compelling arguments and then makes an ideological leap to the wrong conclusion.

I have previously argued here that many of the features which have caused our current traffic situation are new sociological functions which may or may not have anything to do with settlement patterns: women entering the workforce and just-in-time deliveries, to name two. At the same time telecommuting and higher gas may further reduce our needs for new roads ( and raise money for the ones we do need).

The Virginia estimates ARE wildly over stated. On the other hand, we still have 20 years of catch up road work to do. It is pretty clear that 22 lanes of beltway is excessive and a really bad idea, to begin with. But that means we don't have the justification for for $30 billion in rail improvements, which even if we get, won't relieve traffic congestion any more than building new roads will, and for exactly the same reasons. It's worse for rail even, because congestion is a prerequisite for them to exist, they're slow create a wasteful need for mode shifts, they don't go where we want, and when they do they are half empty.

But if your argument (same as mine) is correct that VMT will level off due to gas prices and other effects, and commuter age workers will decline, then what happens to your (previous) argument that we can't build our way out of our traffic problems? Clearly your argument suggests that we can eventually fix our problems, especially if we don't spend $30 billion on rail that doesn't go where we want.

Instead of reaching that conclusion you commit intellectual suicide by suggesting that more, mixed use, and denser development will eventually (20 to 40 years) make a dent in our traffic problem by making it possible for people to resort to fewer and shorter trips.

Just because it is possible doesn't mean that people will do it. It is possible to shop and eat at the local convenience store, but most people will drive to Gluttony Gilbert's in order to get a better price or selection.

Not only is there no evidence anywhere that such a plan will actually reduce VMT, auto trip number, congestion, pollution, or taxes; but such a contention has nothing whatever to do with your own preceding arguments. No one can explain how the congestion we already have on account of settlemt patterns is going to be reduced by adding more density on top of existing patterns which aren't likely to change soon, if ever.

Promoting mixed uses in the aging suburbs suggests exactly what I have been saying: we need to move jobs out of the city, yet EMR's post and argument is based on the fundamental premise that the jobs will be urban-centered for the forseeable future.

Your argument says the facts show the utter futility of spending our way out of traffic problems by spending $5 billion a year, but your own argument says we don't need to spend anything like that, so, maybe, business as usual is the right answer after all.

To me, it sure sounds better than waiting 20 to forty years to discover New Urbanism is not the Big Rock Candy Mountain. As EMR points out "few ideas are as old as the planned new community". We are still waiting.

In fact, he notes that balanced communities cost a lot of money, so there must be a core role for public (money) in creating these communities. Again, this agrees with what I have said(urban development is complex, expensive and energy inefficient), and it is perfectly OK with me, as long as they pay their own share for their locational choices, including the cost of rail and Metro.

Then he goes on to say that if a product is too expensive, then the answer is to build more of it: presumably with more public money and in spite of the fact that the neigbors don't want it. This is how the general public prevails over private greed, I suppose. Or, if roads are too expensive we could reduce their price by building more of them, and get something that people actually want.

We can't very well claim, as EMR does that it will take a lot of public money to build these places and then turn around and claim, as EMR does, that the high prices for such places show that this is what people want (while the neighbors are fighting more denswity), and at the same time they are really cheaper in terms of energy (not true), and provided services.

Huh??? How's that again???

If EMR wants to relieve the pressure on the use of new land, we need to have LOWER prices at transit friendly locations, not higher ones. The prices aren't really lower if it takes public money to get them. If that is the cost of not building new roads, then the roads aren't any cheaper either.

And remember, all those 40 years we are waiting the waste clock as computed by the Texas Transportation Institute is still running. If we take the public money out of building more congested areas, and take the money out of useless rail and $20 million/mile bike trails, and throw in the money we save from the transportation waste clock, then do you suppose we could afford to build the few paltry roads you now claim we need?

Despite Jim's contention that empty nesters are changing their living habits, not one of my twelve nearest neighbors have children, they live in enormous homes on even more enourmous lots, far beyond the reach of high speed internet. No one I know is seriously considering depleting their nest egg by buying a more expensive home with higher taxes closer to town. That is what their childless children and grandchildren do because they work such hideous hours that they have no time to commute and have no life anyway, so a bunk-house is all they need.

I agree, there are some forces that will drive us towards the New Urbanist goals. We will however never reach those goals because equally powerful forces drive us away from those goals. When those forces are unfettered and equal we have a balanced community.

Anything else just doesn't compute, and the arguments in these articles are primary examples.


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